Trigger Warning: rape
In the bedroom, where lacquer walls intersect Heineken traces and discarnate memories, she notices how his nails leave crescents in her hips, red moons that unfurl into blood rivers when his hands drag lower. Everything feels red and much too hot when his hands wrap around every part of her: her belt, her thighs, her skirt—her stupid leather skirt all her friends insisted looked sexy. It dawns on her now that the word “sexy” is just the noun masquerading with an extra syllable; “sexy” is not beauty, it is marketability for its own root word.
“Please,” she whispers, “you’re hurting me.”
For a moment, his hands lift. Darkness churns waves in the wetness between them, and salt hangs on his breath when he opens his mouth. Behind this ocean wall of silently humming words, she wants to believe that she is safe.
“Listen here, bitch.”
She feels her head twist and snap back before she can register the sting. The bed sheet clings to her cheek like a film. Against the sheet, neck twisted and eyes half-lidded, shadows bloat and crawl circles on the sheet. It takes her a moment to realize she is looking at her own tears. On the green of the bedsheet, she can pretend they are ants flecking an olive.
“Slut!” “Whore!” Each of his shouts of punctuates the distance between them. “Bitch!”
She thinks of the myth where Hephaestus split Zeus’ head open and Athena sprang out clad in full iron and wonders dazedly if she can summon a god, too, to remove the throbbing
words from her head, but the only halos in the room are the ragged circles of cigarette ash on his sleeve. When she follows their trail upward, she can see her own reflection in his eyes.
“Hey, why’re you crying? Please don’t cry, baby. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” He traces her jaw, and it’s wet. “You know that I love you, right?”
Loves me, she thinks, or loves me not. It’s six years ago and she’s in the kitchen holding her dad’s hand. His gold watch two weeks, from shattering against her cheek, grazes against her wrist. She is crying because her dad has yelled at her again, and when he apologizes, last night’s liquor still stains the apology on his mouth. “I’m so sorry,” he promises her. “I only yell at you because I love you.” Her infallible father squeezes her hand, and the glass bottle winks so prettily on the countertop. Slowly, she squeezes his hand back. It’s the same story that will unfold for months, now in the kitchen, next time in the bedroom. Each time, she urges himself to believe her dad, and eventually she will. Now, six years later, curled up on a tearstained bedsheet, she watches a boy with a stranger’s face but familiar words and tells herself everything will be alright.
“Please stop crying,” the boy is saying, and his face blurs into a mirage into a memory. “I love you. I really do.”
Loves me, she thinks, loves me not. To arrive at the answer begs destruction. Someone must consciously and deliberately pluck away a flower’s beauty, color, marrow, and scatter them like bones in a graveyard, until —he loves me!—she declares, and her sins dissipate like ghosts under the blinding radiance of the words. Even destruction and celebration, she marvels, intertwine into the very vernacular: you nailed that, smashed it, wrecked it, killed it; because the prettiest flowers are never left unscarred.
Loves me, loves me not. Bodies are, at their best, products of a body and, at their worst, vessels for another body—chiasmus, inversion and reversal. A clause reversed upon itself, a flower undone in retrograde, the crosspiece where her chest is caught under the nub of his elbow. Under the half-light, her crescents are rubies to her, red like tonight’s lipstick that she wore out for the first time. To be touched is to be beautiful. To be eviscerated is to be loved. In the godless room, this is the revelation she makes on how to beloved, under halos of cigarette ash and blood of seven-eleven beer.
She lifts her head again. As she turns to face him again, his eyes watch her with genuine concern, and she notices he is almost handsome this way.
She tugs on his sleeve. “Say it again.”
Reverse time, then cross back over. Behind her closed eyes, she can’t remember the full tale of Athena, how her mother Metis, goddess of prudence, was prophesied to have a child more powerful than her father Zeus, so Zeus swallowed Metis and his unborn child whole. She also doesn’t remember how Athena sprung from Zeus’ head a full-grown war goddess and grew up to become her father’s favorite daughter. If she opened her eyes, she might catch these details, or see his tongue lick his ambrosia-stained lips, but she doesn’t, and he knows all this while he fumbles at his belt.
“I love you,” he tells her again, while her eyes remain closed. “I love you, and you are the most beautiful person I’ve ever met.”
He kisses her, and she kisses him back now. Behind her closed eyes, shadow ribbons and ghost muses spin while Zeus dances with his daughter. She wishes her dad hadn’t left the city, but it’s a good thing the clinking belt in the lacquered bedroom sounds the same as it did six
years ago. This time, she knows better than to flinch when she spreads her legs and allows him to ruin her.